20 December 2007. A Thursday. I woke up that morning feeling disgruntled. Partly because six-month old Lilian had woke me three times during the night, partly because of leftover stress from the financial budgeting talk Bryan and I had had the night before. Regardless of the possible reasons, I was feeling down. And I was frustrated about that seeing as we were only five days away from Christmas...a normally very happy time of year. I was wishing that I could stop worrying about the commercial side of things. Worrying about whether or not I had all my shopping done and presents wrapped. Worrying about if the kids had everything they needed for their school parties and Secret Santas. Worrying about the logistics of where we needed to be Christmas Eve and Day. Worry, concern, anxiety and worry some more with list upon list of things to get done swirling around in my mind. I realized that these were all things that need to be planned and thought about but I was concerned that I was spending too much brain power on them and not enough on the real Christmas Spirit. Was I sharing with the kids the magic of Christmas? Were they making the kind of memories that I look back on fondly from my own childhood? Had I been spending enough time with the kids reading Christmas stories, looking at the nativity, reading the Christmas account in Luke? Was I teaching them well enough about the real meaning of Christmas or were they just following my lead in only thinking about gifts and parties?
The day went on. Laundry got washed, toilets got scrubbed and diapers got changed. One by one as the older kids started wandering in from school, I noticed the skies darkening. A storm was brewing. It wasn't long before the hail was slashing and the wind was blowing. The storm was lighting up the sky and shaking the earth in turn. Six-year old Brandon wanted to go to a friends house but I told him no because the storm was so intense. He was very grumpy about my decision and as the storm escalated, so did his mood. It looked like he was gearing up for a full blown temper tantrum when nine-year old Julianne stepped in. Taking on the roll of peacemaker, she suggested that the two of them do a craft project together. His curiosity piqued, Brandon's whining immediately ceased as he followed Julianne down the hall. They insisted on keeping the project a surprise from me and wouldn't let me look until they were done, although they did enlist my help in finding certain supplies they needed. They sat at the kitchen table, heads bent over their work. Surrounded by paper, pencils and crayons, glue sticks and scissors, they worked for over an hour as the storm raged outside. When they were finally finished, they proudly showed off their masterpiece. A nativity. Hand drawn, colored, cut and then arranged on the fridge, held up by magnets. Elaborate and detailed, even the stable and animals had been done. Big, expectant smiles accompanied their presentation as they waited for my reaction. But through my smiles and my exclamations of praise, tears welled up in my eyes and slowly trickled down my cheeks. Maybe I was doing something right after all. They could've drawn a Christmas tree, or a Santa Clause or a snowman. All three would've certainly been easier to draw. But they didn't. They made a nativity. They knew the real meaning of Christmas.
I kept that nativity up throughout the rest of the season, looking at it often. A reminder to me to keep a better balance and not let myself get carried away in the commercial side of the season.
When it came time to put away the Christmas decorations for the year, I carefully packed away that sweet nativity in a big manilla envelope. Every year since, it has hung in a place of honor as a continued symbol of what Christmas is really about.